This is a great time of year; but there is work to be done. We move from a relatively quiet winter season into one that involves running from one project to the next. I remember the slower days with a certain longing. But the simple fact is that there are things to be done, projects to be accomplished. Soon enough there will be visitors. The calendar will be filed with the events of summer.
I have a list for clean up or making repairs or being ready for friends and family to come to the beach.
There is the rummage sale. It is time to get my garage cleared out and bring all those special treasures to the parish hall for sale. I certainly need to get the ground tilled and ready to plant. If I am going to have a decent crop the plants and seeds should go in at the right time. There are perennials that should be added to the flower garden. There is a golf game that needs to be tuned up.
Do you have boat? I know you have a detailed list for maintenance, all with a view to getting your pride and joy into and floating on the water. I cannot even begin to imagine how long your list is if you have an inn. Everything has to be in shape for the summer season. And for me it is time to get ready for the next church season. Now is the time for plans for fall and winter. Time flies. This time of year there is always something to be done.
Hopefully we will get done what needs to be done and let go of what does not. Hopefully we will find the time to relax and enjoy the blessings of this place and community. My pastoral counsel is to remember that we may not get it all done; and that may not be such a bad thing. I don’t suggest being a slacker; but there will be another season and not everything on the list can be number one.
Actually I was reminded of all this getting ready not by the length of the list on my desk but by the liturgical calendar. I was prompted to this by the fact that it is Eastertide.
Easter is a season of seven weeks. We begin on Easter Sunday; but we do not end until Pentecost, that is the fiftieth day. Now in part this long season simply reflects the story we tell. Jesus is with us until the Ascension, that’s for forty days. Then we wait a bit more and come to Pentecost and the gifts of the Holy Spirit.
Eastertide is as long as it is because that is the story. But I wonder if it is not also because we need a season to react and to get ready. What I have in mind is that everything has changed with Easter. Listen to the lessons that are assigned to the season. We are called to walk in a path of light and love. We are called to witness. We are claimed as the children of God. Then with Pentecost we will be sent out into the world with work to do, to proclaim the Good News, to build a new and different sort of community. Especially in this season there is work to be done because it is time to get ready.
It is easy to get lost. Summer is around the corner. Mother’s day is just a few days away. Memorial Day is at the end of the month. The end of school and graduations are in the offing. There is the worldly list. I would hope, however, that we can remember the season and make time. It is a season of celebration and preparation. The celebration is of Easter. The preparation is for what we will be called to do.
If Easter calls us into community and relationship with God and with each other and indeed with a renewed Creation, then Eastertide is a season to prepare for and embrace this work of community and relationship. Perhaps there is some room on the list to begin our task. Perhaps we can take time.
July- August Anchor
Sunny Day Presumption
My garden is doing well. Next year it will be even better, of course; but this year it is doing quite well thank you. The reason for my success is hard work. Last year the voles and the rabbits did me in. The rabbits ate everything above ground and the voles ate everything below. The potatoes became a feast for the little rodents. So this year I dug a trench down about twelve inches. Then I put in small mesh wire netting around the whole garden. The result was no rabbits and no moles. I will admit that the black birds got more than their fair share of peas and beans. Still, the result is not bad and next year will be better. Maybe it’s time to investigate a scare-crow.
In fact much of the reason for my success is hard work invested early in the season. That being said there is a temptation here or maybe too easy a presumption. It is to forget the gifts which make all of this possible. These are the gifts of God’s creation, the soil and seed and rain. Without these there is no garden. They are the gifts of good health. Without these there is no gardener.
There are two sorts of presumptions here. By presumptions I mean those unexamined and therefore dangerous logical starting points that we adopt in our view of life. One is that all my success is just a matter of skill and hard work. The other is that Creation into which I dig my hand, the one in which I take so much pleasure is mine to do with as I please. A sense of entitlement is easy enough. In the case of my garden it is to forget that I begin with a set of gifts and it is by those gifts that I thrive. It is certainly about hard work; but no reasonable farmer forgets the land or the weather. No reasonable farmer presumes too much.
All of this occurs to me when I look at my garden but also just as a result of the string of sunny days we have enjoyed as summer begins. When I walk on the beach or just enjoy the day I know there is a temptation to take this all for granted. It is to presume without more that all of this is my entitlement. It is to forget the extent to which we are gifted, especially in this small piece of paradise. To remember the gift, not to presume and take it all for granted, is also to take responsibility. It is not just hard work from which I draw a profit. It is also my responsibility as a steward of all these gifts.
It is also to give thanks. I understand why Thanksgiving is in November. The harvest is in and with a table filled to overflowing we give thanks for our blessings. On the other hand maybe we could remember to give thanks in season. Now is the time we enjoy these gifts. Now is the time not to presume that it is just because we are entitled. Now is the time to give thanks.
So on these summer sunny days I will try to remember not to presume too much. My prayers are not just a prelude to enjoy everything to which we think we are entitled. Our prayers are to give thanks for all these gifts. “All things come of thee, O Lord; and of thine own have we given thee.” John+
ADULTS ASKING QUESTIONS
Mark your calendar for February 28, 7 PM in the Parish Hall. This will be the first of an ongoing time for adults who never had all their questions answered and for those who heard the answers once but forgot. You know who you are. What do we believe and why? Why do we worship this way instead of that? What on earth does a bishop really do? Why are there so many different sorts of Christians? We will start on Monday evening February 28 for a cup of coffee or tea, meeting in the Parish Hall.
Who is this intended for? It is for those who have questions to start with. You may be new to the church or have recently returned. Maybe the last time you asked a question was in Sunday school. It is for someone who has been here forever but still is curious. It could be for someone who has never been a formal member of the church but wants to explore and know more. If any of the above applies then this is for you. You can also come if you are just looking for a time to get out of the house in the middle of winter.
There are also some who are wondering about being confirmed or received as adults or renewing their baptismal vows, or have neighbor that has never been a part of a church and keeps asking questions. This might also be a good place for you folk as well. Remember that the way neighbors get involved begins when we ask them.
Whatever the motivation come and join us. There will be coffee, company, discussion and a safe place for questions.
I had some sense of the work involved in creating a rug. A number of years ago we had this project in the house. The idea was to use a hook to tie knots of yarn and create a rug. The whole thing was hugely impractical. At the end we had a rug that that was approximately 2 by 3 feet; but it was the product of this never ending number of hours, particularly on winter nights, tying one knot after another. So I had some sense of what was involved in creating a rug, but not really.
We were in Turkey. Our guide had shown us Ephesus, you know, the place where Paul got into trouble. On the way back to our ship the guide stopped at a small shop where they unraveled silk from silk worm cocoons and then wove oriental carpets. The detail was extraordinary. Each thread had to be tied. The colors were combined into a portrait. The work must have been numbing to do this by hand. In fact the guide and the owner suggested that this was a tradition that could not be sustained in the future. No one, probably rightly, would want their children to learn this particular craft, particularly if it would be done by machine.
A few days earlier we have been in Istanbul and visited one of the shops that sold this sort of hand work, not only from Turkey but from nearby countries. Over strong coffee we looked at the pieces they had for sale. Some of these rugs were massive. Many were works of great beauty. I could only begin to imagine the amount of work involved in their creation. Who could afford to pay a wage that would fully compensate the weaver for the time invested in these pieces of art?
I was reflecting on threads and weavings and carpets, their beauty, richness and complexity. When I visit with parishioners, visitors or even just neighbors of our community I have this abiding image of being one who trades stories. I am blessed in being able to listen to theirs and to have them listen to mine. In preparation for a wedding much of the work we do involves telling stories. I listen to theirs and then tell my own.
It is out of these stories that we build all sorts of communities. They are friendships, marriages and, not the least, this place, our parish community. These are weavings as rich and textured as any carpet. Often as we bring them together we find that process and work of weaving is a complex, time and labor consuming as any hand woven carpet.
What we fashion contains as much investment, labor and love. This is the source of its beauty and richness. Understanding the extent of our labor and love should remind us of the value of our communities. Of course, unlike an oriental carpet, they are not static. These are works to which we keep adding with our own lives and by inviting those around us to add their stories and threads.
On their face some things don’t make sense. They are the words which do not fit together. Maybe the image is that toy or some other gift you received for Christmas. You know the one I mean. The instructions were relatively clear; at least as clear as you can get with tab A into tab B, and the rest. Still the parts would not fit together without a bit of “adjustment.” Some things are just not made to fit together.
How about the perpetual motion machine? It’s an intriguing idea; but we are pretty sure that there is a flaw in the concept. There is the problem of trying to make sense of an irresistible force meeting and unmovable object. If the idea is inconsistent internally we might call it an “oxymoron.” You know the sort. In jest we might put “military intelligence” in this category. Sometimes the problem is how we see the world. So we could object to the idea of “honest lawyer” or a “fair tax.” In these cases it may be about us as much as it is about the idea.
Usually we resist this sort of thing, remembering that tab A, in fact, did not fit into tab B. Nonetheless I would like to offer one that sounds inconsistent and conflicted. In the midst of winter Christmas is past. The tree is either down or something or someone in the back of our mind is reminding us that it is time to put away the decorations for another year. The presents have been unwrapped. With the bills coming in the last thing we want to think about is the continuation of Christmas. At least wait until July to start shopping again.
Still Christmas in its most basic sense continues. We make Christmas into a feast that is about us. We are joyful or we are incapable of experiencing joy for any number of reasons. It is a feast that is about a meal or a gathering of family or those who could not be with us or the giving and receiving of presents. Yet the truth of the matter is that Christmas is about all of the above and none of the above.
We do these things and experience these emotions for a reason. It is in response to what God has done. The feast is about a gift; but the gift is of God and it is one which continues. The mistake is in putting the day away with the decorations and the joy. Even in the darkest parts of our winters the gift remains with a brightness and a warmth that does not fade. What we celebrated at Christmas we celebrate through out the year. It is the presence of the divine in our lives. The divine has touched and affirmed Creation. It is Immanuel, God with us, not simply for a day or twelve but for all of our days.
I suppose that as Christians we should just get used to the idea of paradox. It is the divine, the unapproachable, the unimaginably distant, and yet with us, abiding with us. This is at the core of our experience in faith. When we tell the stories of the Incarnation, of Jesus, this is what it is about. There is an affirmation, a “yes” on the part of God. In spite of who we are, or, perhaps because of what we are, God says yes. This is the child at Bethlehem; but this yes does not end with Christmas Day or the twelfth night of Christmas.
This is what I have in mind as a Perpetual Christmas. It is the love of God which continues to abide with us. It is also, of course, a perpetual invitation. The offer of love and grace is one which is there for us to accept. Perhaps during the year and especially in this great cycle from Advent to the Ascension and Pentecost we might take some of the joy that comes from this “yes” and this offer of love.
In the dark parts of the year I would remember that it is always Christmas Day.
During the season of Advent we will be using Rite I in the prayer book for Sunday services. The language is drawn from some of the oldest forms of Eucharistic prayer in the Anglican tradition. In part our choice is to remember and reclaim the liturgy from earlier prayer books. Using different words may help us to appreciate the ones we are more accustomed to hearing. In part the choice is an acknowledgment of the breadth and diversity of our liturgical resources. Using a different rite reminds us of how wide and accepting of different forms of worship our tradition actually is.
Rite I is also seems appropriate for this season. In the prayers, including the prayers of consecration and the prayer of humble access there is a quality of penitence and preparation that seems to fit the season. This is not Lent. We still sing our alleluias. Still it is a time of preparation and reflection. Join us for the season in prayer, praise and thanksgiving as we make ready to welcome the Christ child.
Once again this year you will notice an additional tree in church. During the weeks of Advent we will add a tree which is undecorated except for blue lights. The tree is meant as a sign and symbol of our preparation. It has the same significance as our Advent wreath. On the last Sunday of Advent we will decorate the tree after receiving communion with ornaments based on symbols from our faith tradition. All are being prepared by members of the parish, especially our Sunday school children.
The name “Chrismon Tree” is taken from the fact that many of the ornaments are based on Christ’s monogram, the PX, or chi and rho, superimposed on each other. These are the ornaments which you will be asked to hang on the tree just after you have received communion. These ornaments are being saved from year to year and become both teaching tools and a means of carrying on our tradition. Many of those we are using this year came from 2009. The Sunday school kids are creating additions for this year.
December 19- Lessons and Carols
A traditional service of lessons and carols will be on Sunday, December 19 at 4:00 pm. We will join with the First Presbyterian Church of Cape May for this wonderful service in which we hear the prophesies and the story of Christmas along with favorite carols. Make a point to put this event on your calendar. It is a marvelous way to begin the week that leads up to Christmas itself and the beginning of the Christmas season. A reception will follow in the Parish Hall. Under the leadership of Carol Obligado the choirs of both Advent and the Presbyterian Church will sing.
Could we keep this just between us? I am never sure how widely read these words may be, given that they are posted on the parish web site and all. Almost anyone could see them. Actually I don’t care, with one possible exception. Last year I found the perfect gift for someone’s stocking. Then I lost it. Well I found it again in a drawer where I had carefully hidden it.
Getting ready for Christmas is something like that. There is the discovery or recovery of things that were lost but now are found. Just taking out the decorations is an act of finding old friends. We put them away with great care last January. I had forgotten and now here they are again ready to go up on the mantle over the fireplace. I will discover once more that there are bulbs that were burned out last year which I never got around to fixing. Maybe this year I will get the lights on without leaving the bottom of the tree bare. It will be a whole season of discovering and recovering.
The gift in question is one which you may think is a bit or a lot odd. You know about Spam of course. I will bet however that you did not know that they made Spam flavored macadamia nuts. No kidding. The super market aisles in Maui are filled with the most incredible array of flavored macadamias. They are smoked or salted or healthy or covered with chocolate (light or dark). There in one little section of a shelf on the bottom was a line of nuts in Spam flavoring. The flavor reflects a fascination with this “meat” product on the island. But as it happens I also have a family member who is also a fan. He shall remain nameless (just in case he decides to read the Anchor).
So, when I saw the jar I could not resist and knew it belonged in his stocking. So I pushed away papers and boxes and all of the rest of the junk which had accumulated in the drawer; and there was the jar of nuts. It was a moment of discovery and recovery.
It was an Advent moment. The object of our spiritual practice in Advent is quantum leaps more important than finding a hidden stocking present. It is not like finding ornaments put away last year. Still it is about discovery and the recovery of our gifts. They are treasured but, for some reason, hidden away and then discovered anew.
It is not just about a drawer with too much junk or boxes that we put away for a season. Our lives, I think are like that. The context of culture and busy-ness makes it easy not just to be distracted but to hide what is important. We live in a time where there are a lot of trees that obscure the forest. It makes perspective difficult. It is hard to see and to understand the bigger picture. I am thinking about God here, about our awareness of the presence of God in our lives. There is a lot of competition out there.
A few weeks ago one of the lessons was from 2nd Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17). There was this idea of rebellion against those who set themselves up as gods and distracted us. The object is to put away the blinders; to look behind and around the distractions (false gods). In doing so we begin to realize that we are in the presence of God. As Jesus told us, this same one who is coming, He abides with us. Perhaps our act of Advent rebellion could be one of re/dis/covery.
We are approaching the great feast of the Nativity. It is a simple and delightful moment. It is a small child and angels and a new parents. But this great feast finds its power ultimately not in its tenderness, or at least not only in its tenderness, but in what it says about God. God is with us. It is the moment of the Incarnation.
We are a Christmas people but we are also an Easter people. He comes but he has also told us that He abides with us always. Even as we face trial and tribulation he has said that he would provide for us, opening our lips to testify, to proclaim what is new. This is the one who is our treasure, who is in our hearts.
So here is my thought. Can Advent be a time not only of preparation but also one of discovering and uncovering the gift that is ours? The significance of the feast of the Nativity is measured in part by the events of that night but also by the promise of what will come. Advent becomes a moment of spiritual practice. In faith and trust, we remember what is important, the significance of what is to come, God with us. Standing back from the world, we remember that this is the one who is with us always.
Distractions and Cures
It is always hard to pay attention. I remember my sixth grade teacher telling me that she repeated instructions over and over again because we only heard every fifth word, with distractions and all. But now I think it is a season of distractions, with an extraordinary number claims on our attention. There are the joys of nature as the birds flock through. Even if you have already given up on the garden, its claims on time, cleaning and preparing for next year continue to make themselves heard. There are sports (even if the baseball season ended prematurely). School, college and professional football are all with us. I even hear this out of season noise about basket ball and hockey. If you combine these claims with community festivals, the demands of work and starting to think about Thanksgiving and Christmas, it is almost too much. It is like some huge feast where you need to try everything. The individual bits really are great; but without some care it can be over the top.
This year I may have been particularly aware of distractions with the noise of Halloween and elections coming on top of each other. The calendar certainly provides its share of irony. Our children and many adults dress up in fantasy and not a small amount of horror. There are these figures that stand at a considerable distance from reality. It is all just pretend with aliens, silliness, super heroes and characters from the comic books. Then there is the horror. There are the folk (kids and adults) who enjoy scaring us with the fake blood and such they find in novelty shops.
I read that Halloween has become the second largest season for those who sell cards and party goods and such. Only Christmas retains a lead. I suppose I should be glad that so many of us are willing to observe the great feast of the Church by marking the eve of All Saints Day.
This year the irony is that only two days later we have Election Day. It is serious business and I will vote. At the same time the experience of fantasy, silliness and horror on Halloween is just too close to the reality of the advertisements on television. More than a few of those running for office have been to the novelty shop, or at least their marketing managers have. I will breathe a sigh of relief when they are still.
Yet even if we dispense with the irony and mild humor of the season, the distractions remain.
On several recent occasions members of the parish have observed how much the world is with us. We have been reading First Corinthians in Bible Study. We have noted the extent to which Paul warns us against getting too caught up in the world, in the preoccupations of the wisdom of the world. A collect from the end of the September reminds us “not to be anxious about earthy things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure....”
Particularly in a season when the world distracts us with its own cares and concerns, we pray not to be anxious but rather to find a focus, an ability to hold on to that which will endure. The prayer seems to name both the illness and the cure.
It is different for each of us. Most have a feeling for the remedy even if we use different descriptions. It can be stillness, or calm, or letting go. The fix can involve turning off the media voices that demand our attention with each new disaster. It might even involve some time in which to fast from the news. My thought is that the prayer, “not to be anxious about earthly things,” and Paul’s counsel describe the same remedy. It is to grow and find comfort in our spiritual life.
Can you imagine crowding out the distractions with something else? It could be study or prayer or silence. Isn’t this what we do in the Sunday morning discipline of joining the parish community for prayer and thanksgiving? Some spiritual advisors counsel building a frame work to follow when we are tempted by the world. Fair enough, but when I think of the world as imposing its distractions on me I wonder if what I need is framework but also a way to crowd out the other bits and pieces that are constantly intruding, holding fast to those things “that shall endure.”
It could be the study of scripture or regular prayer, giving thanks for the blessings which greet us each day and evening. Maybe it is as simple as being aware, knowing that if we do nothing else, the world will intrude. This is the reason we make a Sabbath, a time apart for ourselves, ourselves with others whom we love, ourselves with God. This sort of awareness involves being aware of how much the world tries to claim us; and with this presence of mind we are able to make the decision to make a change and to be renewed. It is to be filed with a different sort of meal and presence, one which heals, one which endures.
Sale of Fair Trade Items at Church Winding Down
Many thanks are due to all who have purchased Fair Trade chocolate, cocoa, coffee, tea, nuts or fruits over the last 3+ years. Your purchases have netted the Advent Outreach Fund over $1,000. Every project has a beginning, middle, and an end. For this project we are coming to the end. All remaining items at the back of the church will be sold at 1/2 price with proceeds going to Advent's Outreach Fund.
The times they are “a-changin'” and happily many of these Fair Trade items are now easily available in the grocery or health food stores. (FYI--Higher Grounds in West Cape May sells Equal Exchange chocolate bars, and they break up the bars and use the chocolate chunks in their cookies.) The mission of Equal Exchange continues to be to create a food system "that empowers farmers and consumers, supports small farmer co-ops, and uses sustainable farming methods." If you would like to continue purchasing from Equal Exchange itself, you may shop at their online Retail Store at http://shop.equalexchange.com/ .
Thank you to all who have contributed to make this project such a success. Marguerite Chandler, Brenda Williams-Elliott, and Mike Torpey.
It should already have come to your mail box. The “it” of course is an invitation to consider and respond to our stewardship campaign for the up coming year of 2011. It is an invitation to reach and make a difference.
It is on the basis of your response that the Vestry is able to prepare and adopt a budget, a financial plan for the program ministry of your community. This is your chance to make a statement of faith and confidence in your own work of worship and service.
It is possible to think about the financial request in any number of ways. Some work toward a tithe or even a percentage of income. Some just try to inch their contribution up from year to year, for example by 5%. Some look at what they reserve for themselves. What would happen if you increased your pledge by the cost of that weekly dinner out? What ever the method, the one clear and important need is to think about your resources and the need and then to respond.
Money is only a part of the picture. This is also a time to reflect on what you can offer in the way of time and talent. They are not really the same. Do you have a talent which you are shy about sharing? There is a need. The need is never greater than now at the beginning of the program year. Take a chance.
The part which is time is just as important. Remember that our time here on Sunday morning and at our other celebrations is a matter of stewardship. Where else could you give in the way of time? It could be on the altar guild or with ECW or ECM.
We will each respond differently to these questions of time, talent and treasure depending on our skills and resources. We will respond differently, but the one part that needs to be consistent is that we all respond.
When closing letters from his fictional hometown of Lake Woebegone, Garrison Keillor tells us that this is all the news from a place where the “women are strong, the men are good looking and the children are above average.
The phrase is both amusing and unsettling. He startles us. Our expectation, admittedly one that is a bit old fashioned, is of a place which would celebrate the beauty of its women and the strength of its men. So, we chuckle, maybe even knowing on some level that the strangeness of his tag line is not so wrong. A place where all the women are strong and the men good looking would not be so bad either.
I am more interested in the last part. It is about a place where all the children are above average. It may not be a bad thing to be above average; but I am confident that it is less than what we desire or would be comfortable with. Do we want a world in which our children, and over time necessarily, we ourselves are just above average?
Usually we want something that is more than just above average. To say that a wine is just above average is to condemn its quality. What you want to hear is that it is “truly exceptional.” It is out of the ordinary. Just above average is no complement. We want our teams to be above average for sure. Yes it is better for a baseball teams to finish above the 500 mark than it is to be in the cellar at the end of the season. But what we want is that combination of factors that makes a player and the whole team truly exceptional. This desire for the exceptional appears in all sorts of places. It is our desire for our gardens or tables, for the nation, for our schools.
One of the qualities of our nation has been to value shared opportunity, even if we are sometimes inconsistent in practicing that value. We celebrate the ability of each child to receive an education. Understanding the importance of education, universities have traditionally been affordable. At their best the institutional structures of our society permit and encourage the exceptional. They are supposed to guarantee enough of an equal starting position that it is possible for everyone’s child to thrive and be exceptional. It is about the possibility of being exceptional.
We can, however, be conflicted. We are ambivalent about being exceptional. It may just be simple competitiveness. We distrust or fear those who are different in the first place; and often we amplify our reaction when the difference is some accomplishment or position we do not share. Pride and self interest make us question the exceptional. The problem is compounded when the same social institutions that are meant to support this common starting ground themselves become compromised. The motivation in one case is competition or self interest. In the other it is a sense of inequity or unfairness. The result in both cases may be a move toward leveling it all out. Our conflicted reaction to “all the children are above average” reflects that move.
Where is faith in all of this? In one sense we are like the description of the nation I gave earlier. We begin with a shared possibility of being exceptional. With our baptism, we begin on equal ground as the children of God and we will, in the sure and certain shared hope of faith, end on equal ground. In the meantime the Gospel calls us all to be exceptional as instruments of God’s love, in our care for each other, in opening ourselves to God’s gifts. We are all called to be exceptional.
I was prompted to these thoughts by a new book. In our calendar we celebrate a number of individuals called saints. During the course of the year, any particular day, it may be the time to celebrate a life or accomplishment. It could be one of the Apostles or someone relatively obscure to most of us (check out Alban, first martyr of Britain, c. 304 AD). In a book and project called Holy Women Holy Men the church is proposing to expand the number of those we celebrate. Well enough and they are all interesting and worthy folk. Most of the new ones are important in history and worth remembering. Still the choice is sometimes of someone who is more or less famous but has no obvious and compelling claim to sanctity. J.S. Bach was a great musician who added to our spiritual lives. Hudson Stuck was a priest who was the first to ascend Mr. Denali in Alaska and wonderfully described the spiritual experience of doing so.
So I was wondering. Are we celebrating their response to the Gospel call, their “exceptionalism,” or are we leveling the field so that we all feel more a part of the story? Is it their exceptional holiness that we are remembering or are we engaged in a leveling out in our fear of the exceptional? My thought is that this project called Holy Women Holy Men, seems conflicted about being exceptional, at least it does as it relates to our lives as Christians.
We need not be conflicted. Maybe, at the end of this month when approach the celebration of All Saints and All Souls we can remember those men and women known and unknown of exceptional faith and the accomplishments of faith. We can remember that we are called to respond and that each of us in some way shares the possibility of being exceptional. We are can be conflicted and ambivalent but the Gospel is not. Each of us, as a child of God, shares a common call. We are called to follow a law of love that turns the world up side down. We are called to give, to sacrifice. We are not called to be above average but instead to be truly exceptional.
September Night Sky
And other Seasonal Observations
Ah Summer! Glorious and beautiful summer! By the time you receive these words the season will be over. Labor Day is gone. The traffic on the streets is already lighter, at least marginally, at least in theory. I may be able to find a parking space in the Acme lot. Maybe we can make a last minute decision to have a Chinese dinner.
On the other hand, by astronomical measures the season still has time to run. The reality is that for many of us the work of summer folds directly into the work of fall. There are different visitors but visitors just the same. Dear friends whom we have been urging to visit will finally take the time, now that the parkway is less crowded. The work of entertaining is this mixed bag in which we both join in the fun and then work to make sure that a good time is had by all.
Then there are the other regular requirements of fall. The school year begins. Practices and games start up again. The Church program year begins again with Sunday school, choir and adult education.
I am not complaining; but I would like to note that it can be difficult to mark off a single point of transition. We assume that summer is time of relaxation and decompression followed by a time to begin again and work; or that summer is time of intense work followed by a time of relaxation and decompression. The reality, particularly in a travel focused community is that both are true simultaneously. The transition is never so clear. To be honest, in the world in which we find ourselves, the transitions are just not that clear anymore. Our icon might be that hyper-active bunny rabbit with the battery; except then we need a way to change the batteries. Someone suggested that one of the most significant inventions of the last century was air-conditioning. Think about it and how it changed our life styles and sense of time (to say nothing of where we can live and the amount of energy we consume).
All of this brings me to the question of a remedy. Without a distinct transition point, it can be unclear “when” we are. The risk is ending up at loose ends. My remedy is one of structure and specifically a sort of spiritual structure. What I have in mind will probably vary from person to person. My thought is that the tradition we claim provides a structure which helps with the sense of dislocation we experience in our broader culture and our lives in this place, not having clear transition points, not knowing “when” we are.
The intentional structure of a spiritual life may be something as simple as a Sabbath observance. Is there one predictable day on which you put the demands of the world second and God, your life as a spiritual being, first? Is it helpful to pay attention to the progress of our liturgical calendar, moving through the ordinary counting Sundays after Pentecost toward the feasts of fall, All Saints and the rest? It could be your own Bible study. I would hope that it includes prayer.
In one of this summer’s passages from Luke (11: 1-8), the disciples asked Jesus for a prayer. The answer was the Lord’s Prayer. But context of the words were also a call to persistence, to constancy, to always being aware of and living in the presence of God. The passage is about persistence; but I think it is also about structure.
Each of us will read a call to constancy or spiritual structure a bit differently. It may be some daily practice of prayer, on rising or retiring or in the midst of a beautiful day. It could be the simplest informal acknowledgement of God or it could be the daily office. I would hope that it includes gathering in community for praise and thanksgiving, our weekly celebration of all that has been promised to us. This is all the sort of persistence and constancy that shapes us and reminds us of who and what and “when” we are.
In a moment when time and place are uncertain prayer or spiritual structure can also be an anchor, even if it is not one wholly fixed. It may be the sort of anchor that we restrains and guides us. The calendar of the week and the liturgical season are a point of fixedness in a time and place with no fixed transitions.
The structures we chose will be as varied as we are; but in this sort of time, being able to hold on, to ground ourselves is a need we share. Maybe, just maybe, in times of transition that are no transition, we can find our own way of understanding and claiming the time into which God calls us.John+
DISTRACTIONS AND BLESSINGS
In this place we build much of our lives around being distracted. Sometimes it is the healthiest thing we can do. There is enough going on in the world, from famine, to war to oil spills. Sometimes it makes sense to just let go for a little while, to take a moment and recover. Turn off the television and computer and listen to the waves. I say we build our lives around being distracted. What I have in mind is the nature of our community. We come for a day or a season. To the extent that we are all, visitors and those who welcome visitors, a part of this process, it is a good and healthy thing.
It is a good place to be distracted. There is sitting on the beach and going into the water. This week Dot and I went out on a skimmer, a shallow draft boat, and cruised through the wet lands for a few hours before sun set. We saw Osprey’s on their nests with young ones just ready to stand up. There were ibis and all sorts of herons. There were rails (actually we only heard them). There were turtles and of course the gulls. Even the gulls were interesting since the newly hatched little ones were beginning to walk around in the wet lands grasses. Walking on the promenade in Cape May in the early morning, there is the sand, the water and waves, sun, breezes and people.
Combine all of this with the rich endowment that is a part of this community. That richness is reflected in both the institutions (think of art and theater and music) and physical heritage that surrounds us, what has been preserved for our enjoyment. It is a good place to be distracted.
On the other hand it is also a good place and time to note just how blessed we are. So much of this is a simple gift. We did not create the natural beauty that surrounds us. Our physical and institutional heritage is just that. It is a heritage, a gift from those who have gone on before us. In each case our responsibility has been to recover or preserve what might have been lost either in the natural world or culturally.
Perhaps in this one small section of the world we should move our Thanksgiving Day from November to the summertime. I am not entirely serious. Still it does seem that our season of distraction is a perfect time to reflect, to be aware of the extent of our blessings.
In one important sense this giving of thanks lies at the core of what we do as a community. Each time we celebrate our Eucharist we are making a thanksgiving. It is what the word means, “thanksgiving.” We give thanks for the gift of God in the presence and work of Christ; that is at the heart of our prayers. But our prayers also acknowledge the Creation of which we are a part. As Christians and in prayers for the whole of the Church we give thanks as well for the richness of our tradition, all that has been done for us through out the Church as a whole and in this place. I have no problem giving thanks for all this and more, for all of these joys and possibilities that form the basis for our distractions in a season of blessing. Maybe this is an especially appropriate time to make our Thanksgiving.
With blessings come responsibilities. It is to be aware of the extent of our gifts, to realize that we are the beneficiaries of an extraordinary part of Creation. We are the heirs of those long ago passed on who set aside some part of their own gifts from Creation to provide for us. With thanksgiving comes the responsibility to consider our tasks, what we will leave for those who come after us.
Living into the Story
One Christmas I brought a friend home from college. After a while it was clear that he was concerned and more than a little taken aback. He realized, to his great surprise, that a significant number of my relatives had already passed on. It may sound as if that should have been no real shock; but he had looked forward to meeting them and found that they were no longer with us. Uncle Dent was long gone, maybe 40 years before. “JH”, my grandfather had died some ten years before. The problem was that he had listened to my stories. From the way I spoke about them, he had just assumed that everyone I described was still living and walking the streets of the town I grew up in.
He should have known better of course. The clues were there. The stories were populated with horses and cars that had not been made for years. I had described the great flood on the Wabash River and the circus animals floating downstream. He had heard about Uncle Dent, the banker, refusing to leave his vault, and my grandmother crossing the rope bridge to bring him something to eat. The clues were there. After all. the great flood was in 1913.
The problem was that in a real sense they were all still walking the same streets. Dinner table conversation was a time to tell stories. They were in great detail. The figures were as alive as if it were the same day. The stories were richly populated with any number of local folk, the good ones and the ones who had their challenges. There were details of food, work and the seasons. There was almost always a point to the story. It had a beginning and an ending and a point, some moral, judgment or practical observation.
In one sense they were all still there. We lived into the stories and made them our own. So when we told the stories again we could lead those who listened onto the same streets and country by-ways. They could be there with my uncle guarding the bank vault. I could understand the shock of discovering that they were all gone. Sometimes I am a bit shocked my self. But these stories and being a part of them was hugely important. They formed a structure into which I grew up. All of their assumptions about what was and was not appropriate, tasteful, polite, right or “not the sort of thing we do” were built into me as I became apart of the fabric of the stories themselves.
I wonder if we don’t do something similar when we practice our faith. In Bible study we read and read of folk long gone but who might be in the room with us, of Paul agonizing for his charges in the young churches, for Peter constantly second guessing himself. On Sunday morning we hear the story. Each time we hear a passage from the Gospel we are, at the same time, told about a single incident or lesson and reminded of the whole of the story. It is a part of the whole: the “good news” of our Lord. Indeed our own statement of faith, our summary that we call the Creed is itself a story. It is a narrative of what had been done for us.
When we read and listen we live into the story and become a part of it and, I suspect we find ourselves able to bring others there to live with us. I was thinking of all of this as we celebrated Pentecost. On that day in Jerusalem, in spite of the confusion of language, they were all heard. There is more to the feast and more to the gifts and presence of the Spirit in our lives. Still, I wonder. Was this an element of the process when Paul and Peter went out into the world to recount what they had learned and experienced? It is in this story of which we are now a part that we live and move. Here is where, if we are able, we have our being.
There are those who object to all of this as being too limiting. I do understand. It may be constraining; but it is also liberating. There may be more than one story to live into; but this one is ours. It does teach and constrain; but it also feeds and frees us. It is the one which teaches us who we are and what we might become. It is the story that feeds and sustains us. It is sad to reflect on the extent to which we have lost the ability to tell stories, even our own. We spend our lives “texting” and painting the world with sound bites. We live in fear of being a part of some greater narrative; but the loss would be ours if we were not. The loss would be the rich texture of the story, of living into the story and making it a place where we live.
Can we claim the story with all of its implications? Can we live into the story and then allow those who surround us to be surprised at the extent of its reality, the way in which it forms us and re-news Creation with us? By living into the story and performing as others watch might we invite them all to be there with us? Invite them to be shocked at finding us with them and all those who have gone on before us.
Plans are afoot, pardon the pun, for a Cape May Crop Walk. It would be the first in many years. The object is walk to raise funds to alleviate hunger both around the world and in the United States. There will be much more to come from our Outreach Committee as plans come together, so watch this space. At this point the expectation is that the walk itself will occur next year just before Easter. If you have an interest in this project please speak to Evie McCoy, Outreach Chair, Pat Keltie or with Father John.
BUILDING DREAMS AND PLANS
It has been some ten months since we gathered to brain storm about our buildings and what ought to be done. We heard all sorts of ideas from painting to elevators. Well, those ideas and dreams have not been lost. Over the past few months there have been many meetings involving vestry and a group with experience in facility planning and maintenance. The process of planning is not complete but we wanted to make sure you knew that progress was being made.
The first step seems to be the need for a new heating and air-conditioning system. For that purpose the committee has worked with a mechanical engineer to find an effective and cost efficient system. We are almost there with units that will be more environmentally and cost friendly as a result of their operating efficiency. This part of the project is our essential first step since it needs to be in place before we paint either the interior or the exterior of the church.
Many other elements will be involved, such as a refurbished electrical system and we hope to have a detailed plan available in the next couple of months. In the meantime, if you have a particular interest (or would like to participate in the process) please feel free to ask Corbin Cogswell, Senior Warden and chair of the property committee.
Certain times of the year are harder than others. It all depends on your perspective; but what I have in mind is the ease or difficulty of maintaining a focus in your spiritual life. For me spring is very much the season of the full calendar. The number of preoccupations and the things that just have to be done seem to mount up until the calendar is full. Summer is rushing at us and that makes it a time that requires effort and focus to avoid being distracted from a Spirit filled life.
The months of winter may be easier for a life of the Spirit. First of all there is the enforced slowdown of snow and rain (remember?). There are all of the folk who are on holiday or visiting friends someplace warm and sunny. Yes, many of our favorite summer places are closed; but you don’t really have to be so attentive. For those which are open, no reservation is required and the parking is free and easy. By themselves these are not spiritual markers; but they are a non-imposing, un-distracting background that makes self awareness a little bit easier.
Winter includes the gift of Lent. It is a time when we impose a self expectation of reflection and spiritual awareness. The season and the liturgical calendar conspire to inspire. Even the lead up to Christmas is not as busy as springtime. There is this fixed and predictable feast. We begin shopping and planning and inviting. It is huge and it is filled with meetings and the need to prepare. Still the extent of tradition in some ways makes it an easier time.
Then comes spring. It is time to plant and weed. It is time to make ready for the summer. Bicycle tires need to be pumped up. There are the athletic endeavors which we, or some of us, pursue only in warm weather (like getting the golf swing tuned up).
Spring is different not just because it is so busy, but also because it leads so quickly to summer. It requires a certain degree of thoughtfulness, of attentiveness, if we are going to maintain or nurture our spiritual health. It is easy to put Easter aside and move on quickly to summer. And yes, Easter the day is past; but we are still in Eastertide for seven weeks. The great cycle will continue with the Ascension on the fortieth day after Easter Sunday and then Pentecost and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So, my thought is to listen. Maybe, with an ear for things spiritual, it is to listen....up. It is to make an effort to keep the noise of the distractions at bay so that we can keep a sense of where we are headed or of what is important in our lives. We can continue to be engaged with and in the community of faith as we celebrate the Easter and Pentecost cycle, even though we are rushing toward summer. Who knows? Maybe remaining attentively in this cycle will provide a bit of energy and insight to more fully appreciate the tasks and joys of the season.
My thought is that we use this ongoing time of rebirth as one to listen to what has been and is being done for us. Listen with an ear upward for the gifts of God.
Ready for the Day
There is more to do. The list is never fully complete. It’s like taxes, right? You finish one year or quarter and there is always another just around the corner. In the parish office we are often in the mode of anticipating the next season, getting ready for what is next. If it is the fall we are preparing for Advent. If it is Epiphany we are getting ready for Lent. As this copy of the Anchor is being mailed we are readying ourselves for the days that lead us up to Easter and then the feast itself. It is always a time for preparation.
There is a risk that we end up chasing our selves, just moving from one demand to another. I suppose there is that risk; but there is also a blessing here. The progression of the year also reminds us that we are part of a larger story. We celebrate Christmas but always with knowledge that we are an Easter people. In that sense Eastertide is a time to remember the whole of the circle, to remember what has already come and to be ready for the day(s) to come.
Eastertide begins with the greatest of our feasts. We celebrate the Resurrection of our Lord. The feast comes at the end of Lent and the events of Passion Week. Because Easter is such a celebration and day of joy after the quiet of Lent, it is easy to treat the day as an end. Lent is so clearly a time of preparation it is easy to miss that there is more to Easter than celebration. In fact it can be a whole season of preparation and beginnings.
Eastertide is, of course, a season of fifty days. We end our celebration only with the Pentecost and the gifts of the Holy Spirit. So Easter is a waiting time, waiting for the gifts and mission that will send us out of the small rooms to which we have retreated in fear. The nature of our fear will be different. It may be physical as it was for the disciples. It may be an inability to comprehend what has been done for us. It may be an unwillingness to admit that we and the whole of Creation are changed and made new.
Perhaps a part of our task is to reflect and digest over time and so to prepare to leave our small rooms. The events of the Passion and Easter morning are nothing like the lives we lead. To think that we could fully understand and absorb it all in a single morning may ask too much. So we will hear the stories of the upper room, of the disciples and of Thomas, the one who demanded proof. My inclination is take all of this as permission to reflect and consider over time; it is a time simply to listen to the message.
We hear the Gospel account of how the disciples experienced the risen Christ. Perhaps this is a season for us to reflect on how we experience the presence of God. In one sense Eastertide makes us focus on the whole of the circle, the Gospel story, in a new way. The Incarnation we celebrated at Christmas is more now that we have heard “the rest of the story.”
Jesus will bless those who believe not be touching but by faith. In doing so he reminds us that our place and manner of experiencing the Resurrection is different from those of his first disciples. We hear the news having celebrated his Nativity and anticipating the Ascension and Pentecost. Yet this is the same one who remains with us, who invites us into his presence and grafts us onto the vine. Fifty days is a good time to consider and to begin to incorporate this new way of living into our own different and distinct lives.
We know that the mission and sending of Pentecost is coming. Soon enough we will find ourselves in the world doing the work of proclaiming the good news, caring for those in need, welcoming a different sort of kingdom. Maybe these fifty days are an essential prelude. They are perhaps a continued Sabbath time, readying ourselves for the reality in which everything is made new and different. It is the time to feed ourselves in this feast of good news and to be ready for the call. We might begin to make ourselves ready for this one day, even day after day.
Set Apart and Made New
The prayer book invites us to keep a holy Lent. The invitation explains that the roots of our observance are from the early days of the Christian tradition. Our ancestors in the faith observed the time of the Passion and Easter with great devotion. Those who were about to be baptized (in those days mostly adults) prepared and were taught the elements of the faith. They were traditionally baptized at the great vigil just before Easter day. After their baptism they were dressed in white robes. They would wear these robes for at least the following week. If you were newly baptized or a long standing member of this community you could make no mistake about who was a member and that membership was taken seriously.
In fact there was an even older tradition. Those who were to be baptized were sometimes enrolled for a much longer period, perhaps three years or so. In those times, this was a serious business. The new Christian was in a distinct minority at best and at risk of persecution or martyrdom at worst. They knew who they were and that they were marked off as being different, as very distinctly being members of a community apart. In the Roman world they were “strangers in a strange land.”
Lent has a number of different functions. It is a time of penitence and repentance. It is a time to rest and prepare, to be ready for the joy of Easter and the work which follows. In addition to those reasons for observing a holy Lent, I wonder, however, whether we might usefully recover some of the earliest parts of the season, those which mark us off and separate us, those which make us members of a community apart.
We tend these days to be suspicious of distinction and otherness. Indeed a part of our Gospel call is to break down the barriers of difference, that is to seek and serve Christ in all persons. Yet the effect ought not to be a timid and bland sameness. We ought to be bold enough to act on what we have been called to be. As a result of our own baptism we are transformed and made new. We are the children of God and called to live as such.
Our suspicion of difference is sometimes well founded. Being or naming otherness has been a tool of oppression. At the same time our legitimate fears of difference may limit the ways in which we can say who we are, or make us too timid to do so. A commentator recently observed that for some people the popularity of the Dali Lama involves claiming spirituality without too great an investment, without really saying that you are different. So understood he becomes a sort of spiritual Santa Claus for those who do not want to be different. Reading about his conversations with Christian monastics, my guess is that this sort of appeal involves some misunderstanding of the Dali Lama; but it does work as a spot light on the extent to which we are afraid of being different.
I never really thought that those basket ball players who crossed themselves at the free thrown line had greater accuracy; but they did mark themselves as being distinctive. We were not more holy for our public prayers in school or at sporting events or before governmental meetings; but we did identify ourselves as people of faith. Perhaps the sadness or anger at the loss of these public displays of affection for the faith involves mourning lost opportunities for claiming our identities.
If this is the question, then perhaps Lent is part of an answer. It is not about being marked as different by a cross on our forehead made of palm ashes. It is about taking this time to be a little different. It need not be by public display. Hearing the Gospel, perhaps it should not be. It may simply be a spiritual discipline of regular prayer. It may be giving something up or by keeping a Friday fast. By doing so we say to ourselves that we are different. We tell ourselves that we know what is coming and that it is something which is life and world changing. We do so and we join our ancestors in the faith in their distinctiveness.
We will be called. The promise and joy of Easter will be followed by the mission of Pentecost. Perhaps we can use this season not only as a time of penitence and repentance, of restoration and rest, but also to begin to claim who we are, distinct, a community and a people apart.
NOURISHED IN THE DESERT
The journey is a common image for the time we spend in Lent. I suppose it makes sense since there is a beginning and an end. We start walking on Ash Wednesday and end at the great celebration of the Resurrection. In the scriptures appointed for Lent there will be journeys. One of the Gospel passages will begin with Jesus walking out of the desert. The prodigal will make his journey home. Passion Week is about a triumphant journey into Jerusalem that seemingly ends on Calvary. So the idea of Lent as a journey makes a certain sort of sense. But I wonder if we might get more from this season by staying home or better yet retiring to the desert.
We begin Lent on Ash Wednesday knowing the end of the story. The object, I think, is not simply getting there. We are an Easter people after all. We are already there and this great feast will not end a journey but instead will begin one. Easter and the Ascension and Pentecost will send us out into the world proclaiming the good news.
My thought is to abide for a while in the desert. Jesus is tested in the desert and then begins his proclamation of the good news. I know that we associate his desert experience with temptation; but I wonder if we might better understand those days as preparation, as a time to be nourished.
Some of us find ourselves fed and energized by company and activity. Others are fed by being alone. It does not mean that the first group always wants to be in a crowd or that the second group does not like people. It is a matter of “usually” rather than always. It is the basis of those Myers-Briggs tests where they tell you whether you are more of an introvert or an extrovert. It has much less with how you deal with groups than how you are energized. But for all of the classification I think that all of us need some alone time.
When we take the time to withdraw we can listen to our thoughts. In a spiritual context we can listen to the presence of the divine. We can listen to and ruminate on the words of scripture. We can reflect on who we are, we have become and where we might be going. In a word it is nourishment. It is the sort of feeding that we discover not at the table but in the desert. Is this the reason that in January I hear so many breathing a sigh of relief. They love their visitors and family; but they also need the time apart.
Maybe this going into the desert is a better model for what is going to come. It will be Easter and everything that follows. It is after the Resurrection that we hear the command to go into the world and proclaim the good news of the Gospel. Eastertide and then the ordinary time after Pentecost have their own journeys. With Paul and the others we find ourselves out in the world.
For some of us the first days and then the weeks after Easter are a time of uncertainty. The altar stays in white and gold; but we are not so certain of what happens next. One product is something the church has come to call Low Sunday. The day represents a needed week of rest after the busy-ness of Holy Week. I wonder if a part of this reaction is the thought that we have arrived. Perhaps if we stay at home for Lent or set up beach chair in the desert we might remember that Easter is not an end but rather a beginning.
Lent can be a journey; but think also about making it a desert time. Join your friends for an evening of prayer. Make your denial. It need not be great so long as it acts as a reminder that we are in the desert. We can let ourselves be nourished and prepared and so much more ready for the great feast that is to come and the journey which will follow.
A Lenten Retreat
Mark your calendars for the weekend of February 21. The Rev. Dr. Jane Tomaine will join us in Cape May to lead a retreat on the first weekend of Lent. Jane is an author and retreat leader who is guided by the Benedictine tradition. This will be marvelous way to begin the spiritual journey of Lent leading to the liturgies of Holy Week and our celebration of Easter.
Our retreat will begin in the Advent Parish Hall on the evening of Friday February 19 and continue during the day on Saturday February 20. The theme will involve finding places of rest and renewal during our Lenten journey. There will be times for prayer and conversation and fellowship. For those unable to attend on Friday the retreat will be structured to allow you to join us on Saturday morning. Both days will end with a liturgy of reflective prayer. Saturday will feature a lunch of soup and bread provided by members of the parish. The retreat is open to all those looking for a way to begin a prayerful Lent whether from the Cape May community or beyond.
Jane is the author of Saint Benedict's Tool Box, an immensely popular guide to Benedictine spirituality and devotion. She is an Episcopal priest resident in the Diocese of Newark and formerly the Rector of St. Peter's Church in Livingston.
The approach of January prompted me to think about Sabbath time. For some of us the month is a time of rest just because the Christmas celebration is past. Although there are always projects and responsibilities, for many of us it is slower season. In Cape May the importance of hospitality, and that this is time of fewer visitors, marks the month as a time of rest, or at least less obvious activity. We are a bit different. Did you know that last year the Sunday with the highest attendance other than Christmas and Easter was in the middle of August? We are entering a season of rest and that is what prompts my thoughts about Sabbath.
We are commanded by ancient law to observe the Sabbath and keep it holy. By tradition, the Sabbath is one day in the week. In the commandments it was the seventh day, Saturday. For us, as Christians, it is Sunday, marking and celebrating the day of the Resurrection. In both cases we give honor to our Creator. For us as Christians we celebrate and give thanks for the work of our Redeemer. But each Sabbath is also a time of rest and renewal. It is a gift to us.
When I was practicing law I grew to be jealous of my Sabbath. I had any number of clients with no sense of boundary. Their problems and questions were always important. They also had my home address and telephone number. Not infrequently they would send something for review and the door bell would ring on Sunday morning. I grew to realize how actively I had to defend my Sabbath time, to be jealous. It was not only to set aside a time of prayer and thanksgiving. It was also to be with family, to rest and to be restored. I was able to do this by finding a time apart, a time that was out of the ordinary busy-ness of life. I still answered the door bell; but as the weekend approached I also tried to let the clients know that this was no ordinary time. Maybe that was a part of my Sabbath observance.
Perhaps we all should nurture a bit of holy jealousy. The intrusions are legion. Think about the ordinary parts of a busy life that intrude on your time of rest, the time you set apart to be different. Is there a way to turn off all those devices which wire us into each other’s constant attention? My thought is that we need to be intentional about our Sabbath.
In my mind a Sabbath time includes prayer and thanksgiving, rest and peace; but it will not be a full twenty-four hours of prayer. For me that is no Sabbath. It may be a time of play. It might be a game on the television; but it will not be six games. It will, however, be a time when I know that I am called to rest and to be restored, one in which I set aside ordinary life, at least for a moment to acknowledge that there is nothing ordinary about life. It may not even be a full day; but it will be some time during which I make a point of acknowledging my need for rest and that this rest is a gift of my Creator and Redeemer.
It will be different for each of us. For some it will not be Sunday but some other day or time when we are free. Our responsibilities to families, to others and to work to which we are called may mean that there is no single day which is wholly our own. Still, is it not possible to find some regular time of repose, of thanksgiving and prayer?
Perhaps this quiet winter month, we could work to claim a moment of rest and renewal and to do so recognizing that this time is a gift. We might find time to be still and to pray. We could remember that God calls us to rest. Listen to your heart and your spirit. Claim this gift of our Creator, a time outside of the ordinary.
During the season of Advent this year we will be using Rite I in the prayer book for Sunday services. The language is drawn from some of the oldest forms of Eucharistic prayer in the Anglican tradition. In part our choice is to remember and reclaim the liturgy from earlier prayer books. Using different words may help us to appreciate the ones we are more accustomed to hearing. In part the choice is an acknowledgment of the breadth and diversity of our liturgical resources. Using a different rite reminds us of how wide and accepting of different forms of worship our tradition actually is. Rite I is also particularly appropriate for this season. In the prayers, including the prayers of consecration and the prayer of humble access there is a quality of penitence and preparation that seems to fit the season. This is not Lent. We still sing our alleluias. Still it is a time of preparation and reflection. Join us for the season in prayer, praise and thanksgiving as we prepare to welcome the Christ child.
You will notice an additional tree in church. During the course of Advent we will add a tree which is undecorated except for blue lights. The tree is meant as a sign and symbol of our preparation. It has the same significance as our Advent wreath. On the last Sunday of Advent we will decorate the tree after receiving communion with a variety of ornaments which are taken from our faith tradition. All are being prepared by members of the parish, especially our Sunday school children. The name “Chrismon Tree” is taken from the fact that many of the ornaments are based on Christ’s monogram, the PX, or chi and rho, superimposed on each other. These are the ornaments which you will be asked to hang on the tree just after you have received communion. These ornaments will then be saved from year to year and become both teaching tools and a means of carrying on our tradition.
Lessons and Carols
The traditional service of lessons and carols will be on Sunday, December 20 at 4:00 pm. We will join with Cape May Presbyterian Church for this wonderful service that tells the story of Christmas. Make a point to put this event on your calendar. A reception will follow. Under the leadership of Carol Obligado the choirs of both Advent and the Presbyterian Church will sing.
Dreaming About What Might Be...
And making it happen
During the summer and early fall we gathered in the parish hall to think out loud about what we might and ought to do with the great inheritance which our buildings and grounds represent. This really is an endowment from those who have gone before us and one which we are called to steward. We are now beginning to meet to consider prioritization, implementation and funding. Under the direction of the Vestry a group of vestry and non-vestry members will meet to plan and organize. If you have an interest in any aspect of this very important ministry please contact Father John or one of the wardens, Art Bourgeau or Corbin Cogswell.
Savoring Waiting Time
“Please be patient. Your call is important to us. We will take your call when the next available service representative is available. Your approximate hold time is 40 minutes. Have a really great day.” The message is usually followed by really bad music; it is whatever you like the least. I think there is some sort of software (or perhaps a small demon?) which determines exactly what you do not like and then plays it anyway.
The scenario of a telephone service call is just barely fictional. The experience is well nigh universal. We wait on the telephone. We wait on the computer for someone to respond. We wait in a store (you remember those brick and mortar buildings which have actual merchandise inside where we shopped before the internet). The stores and the telephone service centers, in an understandable effort to control costs, have fewer and fewer people available to serve us. As a result we wait; and there is a negative quality we associate with waiting. For folk as busy as we the very idea of “waiting” is a problem. Even the announcement on the telephone unhelpfully reminds us that our very precious time is being “wasted” while waiting.
Still there is something to be said for “waiting time.” We spend much of the year after Pentecost moving through “ordinary time.” These are the ordinary weeks of the year. They have their markers and feasts; but in large part it is simply the progression of time. Now comes the season of Advent and a different quality to time. It is very much a waiting time. We dress up the season and call it one of “anticipation” or preparation. Yet what we are about is waiting to hear the good news of the birth of Jesus.
There is preparation, the busy-ness of being ready; and there certainly is anticipation, to the extent that we tend to live in the Christmas moment well before the angels make their proclamation of good news to us all. But there is also simple waiting. I think there is a spiritual quality here, one of some discipline and formation. This is a time to reflect. It is a time before the great moment during which we can reflect and consider who we are. What is our need? Is it possible to savor this time, to taste what has not happened yet? Is it possible to be more aware and therefore to hunger all the more? Is it possible to accept the waiting and put it good use?
I remember how often I was told as a child to be patient. Usually, it was in connection with dinner. From the number of times I was told I had to wait, I must have always been hungry. There was the stated risk that I would “ruin my appetite.” I am not so sure I would have. But I am convinced that the smells of the kitchen and the waiting increased my enjoyment and appreciation of the meal. It was a matter of knowing my hunger.
Savoring the waiting time of Advent, like waiting for a feast, might heighten our senses when the moment arrives. Maybe I can find a bit of time while waiting on hold or in a line simply to reflect on what I am doing, to offer a prayer of thanks. Perhaps, while waiting, I can consider the extent to which I am in need, the depth of my hunger. Waiting time can be valuable. Think about using the time waiting on the telephone for prayer or reflection. Enjoy, savor, the wait. Understanding the extent of our need, our hunger, our joy can be the more full.
VERY ORDINARY THINGS AND THE HOLY
I am intrigued by the cooking shows, “Iron Chef’ and “Hell’s Kitchen” and the like. There are these different chefs trying to make a name for themselves by cooking in public for so called critics who purport to know something about taste. I think I have more sympathy for the cooks. So when I came across this particular French cook my interest was caught; especially so since this was not Julia Child but rather a monastic from the seventeenth century. What could be more fun: a monk and vegetable chopper.
He was a simple man with little in the way of formal education. He lived in Paris a bit more than three hundred years ago. Born to a very poor family, he joined the army to be able to feed himself. At some point he had what we would call a conversion experience. He saw a bare tree in the winter. It was the sort of view that we have all experienced; but his reaction was different. He had a powerful vision of what would come in the spring. In that moment he realized that the promises of the Gospel, of a new life, were for him.
His view and understanding of life and his faith were changed. He sought out and joined a religious order. Because he had no education they made him their cook and caretaker. Over time Lawrence, the name he took, came to be aware of the presence of God in everything he did. He did pray at the appointed times and in the required ways and words. Yet, from his words, you can sense a certain impatience with the formal prayers. He realized that he could experience the presence of God, the warmth of God’s love, wherever he was, whether it was in the kitchen or on the road doing errands for the order.
Others began to ask for him for help in their own spiritual direction. He did so reluctantly; I suspect in part because what he had to say was so simple. He explained that he experienced the presence of God in the kitchen as much as in the chapel. It was not that cutting vegetables or preparing the evening meal was itself so prayerful; but he took each free moment to remind himself of God's presence. He was able to acknowledge that he was in God’s sight when he was sent on journeys to re-provision the order. It was all so ordinary but this was precisely where he found his comfort.
Lawrence's conversations and letters were bound in a small book that has come to be a spiritual classic recommended by figures from very different parts of the Christian tradition. Some of this experiences sound strange to our ears but his appreciation of the ordinary rings true.
His observations are worth treasuring. We are all so incredibly busy. We work. We volunteer. There is travel and entertainment. I certainly include church functions on the list. All of these undertakings are important. Many are especially worth while. The may be the one’s that feed us physically. They can fill up the week without our even being aware of it. While finding a moment to be still with myself, simply to be quiet and listen, is important and refreshing, I am not complaining about the busy-ness of life. I think that I need however to listen to Lawrence. Even though my time is filled in such a variety of ways, I need to remember that it is possible to find God, to be aware of the presence of the divine particularly in the ordinary parts.
It happened that I was reading this collection of Brother Lawrence’s conversations at the same time as a number of very ordinary events were taking place. After the last of the ECM dinners we were working in the kitchen cleaning and putting away the dishes. The place and the occasion could not be more commonplace; but in good company and service surely it was a place for something more to be present. I was in the parish hall while the ECW was setting up for the Fall Rummage Sale. It was a place of service and surely one in which our care for each other exhibited the possibility of something more.
When I write of the “something more” or the Holy, I am not thinking of blinding lights or angelic visions. Lawrence, I think, would sympathize. Emptying the dishwasher we do not need a blinding vision. The steam does a good enough job by itself. It is something more pedestrian that I have in mind. It is just awareness, looking at those around us or remembering why and for whom we are working, an awareness that we are not alone or without purpose. In very ordinary events, in our daily routine, it is possible to acknowledge that we are always in the presence of God. Lawrence suggests to a friend that doing so makes it easier to pray. When we do so, we are able to turn in prayer during moments of need and joy.
Preaching on stewardship I suggested that part of our spiritual formation, growing as Christians involves practice. It is practice in all of the aspects of our lives. Practice shapes us; but I think I need to listen to Brother Lawrence as well. Even in tasks that do not seem to be particularly spiritual, he tells me just to be aware that we are in the presence of the Holy. It is there in the most ordinary and common place parts of life.
I wonder if this is not a way to remind ourselves that our lives are holy. It is not simply when we are in church or set aside a time to pray. I think I will pay attention for a while to this seventeenth century cook.
A Time for Creation
During the month of October we will take time to focus on the gift of creation. On Sunday our liturgy will incorporate music, lessons and prayers which observe the theme of creation. We will begin with the blessing of animals on Sunday October 4, just before the feast of St. Francis. During the month there will be programs which specifically consider what our responsibilities might be in response to the great gifts with which we have been endowed. We live in a place of beauty, at no time more beautiful that the fall as the season begins to change. Watch for our announcements and make of point of joining us for the celebration.
The altar will be dressed for the season with new hangings (mini-dossals) created by the quilters of Advent. The colors of the hangings are drawn from the earth and remind us as we pray and celebrate of the gifts which we have received and of which we are the stewards.
On October 4 we will have our traditional blessing of the animals after the 10:30 Eucharist. Gather on the front lawn with your pet. Bring your kitten or puppy, or elephant or camel if you happen to have one visiting. If your favorite is not terrible social bring a picture. Little ones might want to bring a stuffed and fuzzy favorite. Above all come out and bring your self.
A Feast of Dedication
On Sunday October 4 we will observe a Feast of Dedication. We will celebrate the great gift of this parish and offer prayers of rededication. We will also take the time to dedicate a number of special gifts including our new pew candles, a new frontal on the altar and hangings created by the artisans of the parish.
It is a very old tradition for parishes with titles that do not lend themselves to an easy feast based on their titles (the churches with names such as Grace or Incarnation) or where the observance would conflict with something else (Immanuel or Resurrection), to celebrate and rededicate themselves on the first Sunday of October. For us the problem is the number of conflicts with an observance in the season of Advent.
Join us as we celebrated this great gift that is ours.
Tuesday Bible Study
On Tuesday October 13 we will start up our Bible Study program. Meetings will be on Tuesdays at 9:30 am and 6:30 pm except for the fourth Tuesday. All are most welcome. If you have a question please feel free to ask Fr. John about what we do. This is a time to learn and listen and reflect on scripture. No knowledge of scripture is required or you can be well informed. Even with very different gifts we all, somehow, seem to fit around the table.
For the beginning of the new program year we will focus on stories from the Old Testament. Some are stories we will look at again or for the first time. We will also think about how they are related to the New Testament; how they are used and sometimes remolded.
Please join us.
At our last diocesan convention there were several resolutions on the floor concerning the celebration of a time of season of Creation. The agenda was rather clear. The supporting information and conversations with some of the proposers were direct. The premise was that we have a gift from God. It is the Creation in which we live and work and thrive. It is our responsibility. Since it is our inheritance it is also something we should celebrate. Fair enough. I agree. I also agree with the premise that we need to stay alert to our responsibilities. We are the ones who will provide clean water and air for our children and grandchildren. We may debate the means and the priorities; but we do understand, I hope, our responsibilities.
All of this is important, even critical; but I also think we will miss an opportunity if we focus only on our relationship as stewards of these gifts, as the ones to whom God has given charge of Creation.
Creation is more. As I write these notes we have just celebrated the feast of Hildegard of Bingen. Hildegard was a powerful force in the middle ages. Her works were widely read. She contributed to the music and liturgy of the church. As the Abbess and founder of monasteries she helped to invigorate the spiritual life of the community of the faithful. She also had something to say about Creation.
Hildegard suggested that in our darkest moments, when we feel removed from God, that it is time to look around us. Hildegard urged us to look at the Creation that surrounds us. Whatever our loss or failure, she wanted us to look at what God had made. She taught that the light and impressions of God remained in the handiwork which is God’s Creation. So when we celebrate the Creation remember that we are not just recalling our vocation, our responsibility to care for our inheritance, we are also celebrating the Creator. We are claiming the light which remains in the handiwork of Creation.
What is our center? Sometimes we spend a lot of time and energy worrying only about our own spiritual health, as if that is the only goal. It is important. Yet, maybe, by observing a time to celebrate the Creator and the Creator’s Creation, we might understand that our goal and focus is something that is a bit bigger than us. What is our center? Is it ourselves or is it God? Of course, I would argue that they all come to rest in the same place. If we pay attention to the center, in prayer and in our priorities, then it will not be so difficult to find our own spiritual health and stability.
I plan to enjoy this celebration of Creation just as I will enjoy the beauty which surrounds us at this time of year. I will be reminded of my responsibility as a steward. At the same time I hope to remember that it is not just about me. If, by looking at the work that surrounds me, those more of less distinct impressions of God’s hand, what Hildegard referred to as the light which continues to burn, we can remember the center, then perhaps we can focus again on the path to which we are all called as well as the one who calls us.
Campaign for Advent 2010
You will all have received letters from Father John and from the Wardens Art Bourgeau and Corbin Cogswell. The season of considering our gifts to Advent is upon us. This is hugely important work. It is not just a matter of sharing. It is also a time for spiritual growth and claiming what is important to you. Please make it a point to pray and reflect on what you might offer both in terms of treasure and your own self, your time and your talent. Our ingathering of pledges will be on Sunday, November 8. If you have any questions please feel free to ask Art or Corbin or one of the vestry members or Father John. This is a time for you to be a blessing.
Parish Picnic Thanks
Our fall parish picnic was a great success with over 90 parishioners and friends joining in. Our thanks to all who made the day possible, to the Coast Guard who let us use their pavilion, to the Coast Guard galley for a great cake, to our barbeque chefs (noting a great fire start from Senior Warden Art), with special thanks to Frank Garcia who took time off from Sunday School duties to make arrangements for the facility. Thanks to all.
He never asked. The man who would be my father-in-law simply never asked. There was no retreat to a side room for that polite question and answer. Actually, there wasn’t too much of a place to do it. I think he simply made and acted on an assumption of honorable intentions. He was right. In the end, after some increasingly unsubtle hints, I had to drag him out on a long walk around the block to explain our plans, our “honorable intentions” for each other. On one level it was a ritual that we both expected and played out.
I was reflecting on the importance of intentions, or their absence. We tend to make assumptions. We just expect certain things to happen. For example, when I go to the beach I assume that the waves will continue to roll in. They may be bigger or smaller but I am pretty sure there will be some sort of movement on the water. I would be shocked if there were not. I expect the sun to come up in the morning. Remember Annie? She was certain of it and she was right. And I know that, barring cloud cover, I can go to Sunset Beach and see a glorious end of the day. These are assumptions based on fact. There are also assumptions we make about behavior.
Sometimes these are based on fact. A person who regularly misbehaves is expected to continue to do so. Absent skilled training my dog will continue to jump up and ask for more love, even when her feet are muddy. Yet some assumptions work the other way. What we assume is what we get. The assumption produces the behavior. We assume that someone is not responsible or caring and, I think, this is the result. When I watch the “commentators” on the news channels I fear that they offer just what we expect. Perhaps if what we expected was simply a presentation of the facts that might be what we would receive. The news would certainly be shorter. We make assumptions about the intentions of the market place. In the now discredited mortgage business what did we expect and what did we get? I am wondering if lowered expectations help to model and craft lowered or less honorable intentions.
Now I am not suggesting that we are somehow different from our ancestors. Remember that horrible story about David and Bathsheba. The beginning of the lesson recites that it was spring, the time Kings go to war. There is an assumption here as much as there is a statement of fact. My bet is that each produced the other. Spring came and someone sighed that it was time for war. In our capacity to make assumptions which do not demand too much of us (whether in the market or caring for each other or in war and peace) we are not so different from those who have come before us.
Here’s my thought. I think of September as a new beginning. It really is a new year. Programs restart with the change of seasons. It is not just school that is new. With a new season comes a time for reexamination, even for resolutions. My suggestion is that we might begin with intentions. What are the basic structures of what we expect of ourselves? Are they consistent with our highest aspirations? We have promised to care for the poor. We understand that our gifts come from God and we are stewards of what we hold personally and as a community. In fact do we expect of ourselves a pattern of life that is consistent with what we have promised God in our baptismal covenant?
The bishop asks us to pray daily. I think he is asking us to create a set of intentions or expectations of ourselves. We may not make it but the goal is there. The church urges us on to a tithe or growing proportionality in our financial giving. We may not achieve the goal but simply the aspiration can guide us. We care for the poor and “they are with us.” But in them we still see the face of Christ.
My father-in-law did not ask; but I am pretty sure he and for that matter all of our parents had certain assumptions about our intentions. I am also sure that they guided us. There was much that they expected us of us; and for all of that I give thanks.
July- August Anchor
From July 8-17, The Episcopal Church will hold its triennial convention in Anaheim, California. Our deputies from the Diocese of New Jersey have established a web site with information that may be of particular interest to us:
You will also be able to find regular briefings from the convention at the web version of Episcopal Life: http://www.episcopalchurch.org/episcopal_life.htm.
Family Promise Presentation
Mark your calendars for Sunday, July 12. Laurie Johnson, Executive Director of the newly operational Family Promise project will speak between the 8 and 10: 30 services. This project provides emergency shelter for families without homes through a partnership of different congregations. Each week one church will provide space for beds and one or more other churches will join as partners in providing volunteers or perhaps a meal.
Laurie will speak to us about the need for this sort of program in Cape May County and how it has been organized. She will also speak about volunteer opportunities.
Family Promise is new to Cape May County but has a long and successful history in other parts of the state.
Celebrating the Season(s)
It is celebration time and I plan to celebrate. I plan to thoroughly enjoy myself. Summer is upon us. There will be fresh local produce. I can almost taste the corn and tomatoes. I will continue my search for the perfect sticky bun ( ...should there be a theological category for this sort of perfection?...). Family will arrive. I will have a chance to build the best and greatest of sand castles with my grand-daughters. Old friends will come to visit. The season is here. I will enjoy myself.
There is no way I could not notice the season. It is not just the number of people and the fact that the parking meters are working again. As I come to the office early in the morning I see folk walking to work in the hotels. The shelves of the stores are restocked with new inventory. It is more than the fact that the restaurants are open and the inns filled with people. If you drive outside the city you see the farm stands open and ready for business. The grape vines in the vineyards have turned green and leafy with promises of what is to come. The boat yards, never quiet, are stirred to even more activity as the summer boats are put back into the water. It would take an act of will not to notice all of the changes. We have our beach badges. I know it is summer and a time for celebration.
So I plan to enjoy all of this, all these pieces that come together to make the summer season. On the other hand (there always being an other hand), I will continue to with the routine of my life. There are sermons to prepare. There will be the joys and concerns of the parish. There will be plans to be made. There will be new opportunities for service. We will need to think about next year’s budget, a new Sunday school year, maintaining our facility, a stewardship and pledge program for the coming year, liturgical events. At least in this world, the list goes on and on.
I find myself on a balance. On the one side there is the acute awareness of the season and all of its pleasures. On the other side there is the reality of everyday life. I think I will take this balance, enjoying the season, preparing for the next and the ordinary passage of days, as a gift.
There are places that have no sense of seasonality at all. There are those for whom a season is the quarterly issuance of financial statements. I remember a New York weather map which described the brightest spots for the changing colors of fall. It was reported more as news than as a travel destination. Maybe it is; but I have noticed the extent to which we actually live out the change of seasons. We, I think, are blessed by the inescapable reality of our seasons. We move from the warm days of summer, to rest and preparation in the winter and then once more to rebirth and then summer once again. I take the necessary awareness of changing seasons as a gift. It tells me to enjoy what I am given even as I take responsibility to prepare for what is to come.
Yes, there is a Gospel note sounded here. It involves the joy of the moment, living our lives as the children of God and at the same time responding to God’s call to be stewards of all of our gifts, to care for one another, to work for the in-breaking of God’s kingdom. Seasons and cycles and balance all have much to teach.
These are gifts that allow me to balance the pleasures of the season with the responsibilities of the year. So, for all this complex of reasons, I will thoroughly enjoy myself whether I am going about my work or on the beach building sand castles or finding the perfect sticky bun.
STUFF, MORE STUFF AND STUFFED
For those who know our circumstances, it will come as no surprise that I have been reflecting on stuff. Anticipating a move Dot and I disposed of lots of stuff. We cleaned the attic. We cleaned the garage. We cleaned the basement. We called the dumpster. We called the dumpster again. We sent things to our daughters in Chicago and Montclair and Albany. Then we cleaned again and called the dumpster again. Then we packed up and everything that was left went into storage.
After six months in storage it was almost a joke. “Yes, we have one of those. It’s in storage.” I had also forgotten how much we had saved. So now comes the hard part. It is unpacking the boxes and finding little spots for all those important things that we saved from the great clean out. By and large I think we did a good job. There were reasons for retaining what we did, reasons of practicality, value or sentiment. Still the whole process leads me to reflect as I unpack one more box.
I think, maybe, that there should be a “theology of stuff.” Perhaps it is a subset of moral theology or of spiritual development. Maybe it could be called the “Intentionality of Things.”
There is first the practice of letting go. As we practice prayer, spiritual directors will counsel us to let go. Put the world aside they say. Visualize a different place. Let go of attachments. A medieval mystic described this as letting go and moving into the Cloud of Unknowing. It involves the process of disengaging from the world so that we can begin to experience living in the presence of God. It is hard to be still with the roar of things in my heart.
So the first part of my Intentionality of Things, my theology of stuff, involves the practice of letting go. Think of bringing things to the next rummage sale as an exercise of the spirit. Consider gifts in stewardship as exercises of spirituality. All of this involves more than cleaning house. It is also a way of building a certain muscularity of the spirit, of being able to push aside the voices that distract us from our work.
The other side is holding on. Holding on can be just as important. I do so for practical reasons. There is a coffee maker which makes good coffee. There are books which help me as I write and teach. An exercise of intentionality tells me to be aware of what those practical reasons are. When they disappear, then maybe the thing can go with it. There are reasons of sentiment. There are books and pictures I associate with special times or people. They remind me of an event, an emotion or some aspect of my life. It is a matter of being intentional about the exercise.
I was listening to a radio report about a set of new green/ecologically correct buildings in South Boston. The buildings are a technological wonder, an exercise in being green that we can all applaud. On the other hand letting go of the old neighborhood means there will be no more large families in the old houses that must be demolished to make way for the green condominiums. I suspect that old neighborhood schools will close. Parish churches will be consolidated and closed.
It could well be that this is all for the best. Still I cannot help but wonder and be reminded about the intentionality of things. The spiritual exercise involves change and letting go but it also involves holding on. In both cases it involves or ought to involve reflection.
I doubt that the seminaries and graduate schools of theology will offer too many seminars on the moral theology of stuff. Perhaps the “Intentionality of Things” really develops only as we move and unpack boxes and get ready for rummage sales. It is, perhaps, simply a reminder of the exercises of intention that confront us in every aspect of our daily lives. Our stuff, our treasures, sometimes set the boundaries of where and who we are. And if we are careful we will lay up treasures where moth and rust do not corrupt.
Here ends the speculation of the theologian while unpacking boxes.
On a regular basis our national church office prepares fliers for the Sunday bulletin. Usually they address a topic of wide interest, perhaps something that the Presiding Bishop’s office wants to call to our attention. Sometimes we include them. Sometimes, in an effort to save trees, we do not. Recently I noticed a set of inserts which urged us to use this time of year to pay attention to God’s creation.
I suppose it makes sense. It is spring after all. Everything is coming to life and turning green. Various days are set aside to pay attention to the Earth and what we have or have not done to this “fragile planet, our island home.” “Earth Day” is just past. It makes sense. Yet I was struck and asked my self the question of “Why now?” The question came from the fact that our diocesan convention had just adopted a call for us to observe and celebrate creation in the fall, sometime in October or November, or thereabouts. That all seemed to make sense, having worshipped over the years in a number of parishes that had this sort of autumn celebration. Still, I wonder. Maybe, the national church office has it right, or at least has another form of “right.”
In October and November what is it that we celebrate? I am sure it is creation as a whole, but up here in the Northern hemisphere, where we live, it is also harvest season. We have enjoyed the fruits of summer and now bring in the harvest of fall. It makes perfect sense to celebrate and give thanks. There is a reason, after all, that we have our turkey and stuffing and all the rest in November and not April. Having gathered in all the riches and bounty of the land, it is time to make our thanksgiving.
Spring is different. For our ancestors it could be a lean time. They had depleted the reserves of winter and the ground was just awakening. Spring is a time of labor. It is the beginning of the work which will produce the harvest. We go out to clean our gardens. We till the vegetable plot so that we can put in the tomatoes we will enjoy later on. We trim and prune and make ready for new season, for the seeming rebirth of creation. I speak to one friend who tells me how many courses of peas and plantings of potatoes he already has in. I can become a bit anxious just looking at the work I have not done in the yard. It is a time of labor and anticipation.
Now is the time of stewardship of the land. Maybe this is a better time to celebrate creation, or at least another time. Now is the time we are forcibly reminded that there is work to do. The harvest is not something that just happens. It requires preparation and labor. Now may be a particularly good time to honor and celebrate the gift of God’s creation. Now is a time to remember that it is not just there. We are stewards, called to care for the land, the waters, the air. It is given to us as much as a charge as it is a gift to use. Creation is a vocation as much as it is a gift to celebrate.
Perhaps now would be a better stewardship season for us all. We tend to do stewardship for the work of the church in the fall. We share the bounty of harvest. On the other hand, at this time of year, springtime, we can remember that labor and sacrifice are involved and that they come before the harvest. We celebrate the creation; we give thanks and ask what we will contribute to the work of the Gospel. Spring reminds me that creation is a vocation. In turn I am reminded that our faith is a vocation. We are all called to respond, to labor in the vineyard. As we begin the cycle again, maybe this is the time to remember how much is required of us before the harvest can be brought home.
OUT OF TIME AND INTO JOY
Time is insistent. The great Paschal feast is almost upon us. Suddenly, it will be Easter, the Sunday of the Resurrection. We will celebrate the victory of our Savior over death and the promise of life everlasting; and so we make our preparations for a new day.
I know and rejoice that Easter will come; but still, here I am writing in the middle of Lent. It seems not so long ago that we marked the observance of a season of reflection with ashes and the call to keep a holy season of Lent. Quickly, without warning, our preparation time will be over and it will be Easter morning. I am standing here solidly in the middle of Lent, but with my eyes fixed on Easter. Yet, instead of feeling any sense of dislocation, it occurs to me that this combination may involve different and good places to hold onto, resisting being caught up in the passage of time.
Our tradition is one of storytelling. We teach each other the tradition of our faith by telling the stories of the Gospel. During Lent we hear stories of preparation and reflection. With the arrival of Holy Week we retell the events of those few days leading up to the Passion and the Cross. Then, because we are story tellers we focus on one day, that first morning when the women found the tomb empty. In a flash it all changes. The tension and sorrow of Maundy Thursday and Good Friday gives way to the joy of our great feast and the Resurrection. Easter is the day of all days. The story of our salvation urges us on through time, from one day to the next.
Of course Easter is not one day. Eastertide continues for fifty days. Our season of celebration ends only with the Ascension and then gifts of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. In fact, every Sunday, to the extent that it is a celebration of the Resurrection is a part of Easter. What could be more appropriate than to take the time to celebrate through Eastertide and indeed throughout the year? After all, this is the great feast of our redemption.
Yet while we celebrate throughout the year, during these seasons of Lent and Eastertide there is an urgency which keeps moving us on from one day or week to the next. We move from the preparation time of Lent, from the awareness of our failures and needs, out of a time of quiet prayer and suddenly with bells we step into the bright light of the Resurrection and then beyond.
My question is whether we can step out of time? Is it possible to resist the passage of one day after another, and adopt, on some level, a sense that the present, the place we live in now, involves both of these seasons? Might we live in celebration of the Resurrection and the victory of our Savior, in our redemption, and at the same time to continue the journey of preparation? Is it possible to continue to listen to the call to change, newness and rebirth, to love and forgiveness; and, at the same time, to celebrate the great gift of everything that has been done for us? I want to live in different times, at the same time.
Our faith involves much that is paradox, things that are radically different existing in the same place and time. One is our Savior, at the same time one of us and yet God. With Easter, I wonder if we are not invited to live in paradox as well. We celebrate the Resurrection with our redemption, forgiveness and healing; still we live with the knowledge that we are in need, that we continue to hunger and make our journey.
We are a people defined by a story. Perhaps we can live in all of the parts of the story, all at one time. We can anticipate and celebrate both Advent and the birth of our Savior. Even then we can prepare for the Passion, making our Lenten observance by considering the extent to which we are in need and called to a new life. Easter, the Sunday of the Resurrection, both renews us and leads us into this paradoxical sort of life by telling us that the work of Christ for us is complete even as we continue the journey.
Maybe, I can take Easter as more than a single day or even a season; rather, this great feast might be a call to live in paradox, in all of those times at the same time.
In the Northern Hemisphere the feast of Easter is set in the context of spring. I look at the trees and see buds swollen and almost ready to bloom. As I write the wet lands are still brown; but if you look closely you can see the hints of what will come. Different greens are beginning to assert their colors and claim our eyes. Having rested and stored up strength, creation is impatient and ready burst. This is an image of spring which resonates with new birth and Easter.
There is another. This one involves the recognition that spring has the rest of the year bound up within it. It is the fulfillment of a promise made by seeds which ripened and fell in the autumn. It is the resting time of winter and the beginning of summer. We cannot experience one without the other. In one sense each season has the other bound up with the others. We cannot experience one without the others.
We are an Easter people, always aware of the end of the story. But we are also a Christmas people, celebrating the promise and presence of God with us. And, we are a people aware of our need, of the fact that our own journey continues. It is all one.
In the deep of our own winters, always on the journey, celebrating the promise and then the reality, let us live in an Eastertide, a spring, which lasts our whole life, always ready to burst in color and song and new life. I would step out of time and live into joy.
Wandering in Joy
There are two ways of understanding the desert. In one the experience is of a place of anxiety and uncertainty. There is limited water, little means of sustenance. The animals are wild. It is a place where we are alone; and because we are alone we may be afraid. When we pray to be led out of the desert and into the land of promise, this is the place from which we come. This desert is real enough. It can be a place of sorrow and loss. It is too easy to lose our way and become lost. It can be the place we find ourselves when the trials of life impose themselves on us.
The other desert is a place of beauty. It is the one where, in the springtime, with just a bit of water and the first warmth of the season, the flowers bloom in profusion. The colors are everywhere, yellows and reds and blues. You know this desert. This is the place in which you cannot help but know the presence of our Creator. It is a place where wandering is a gift. It is the one in which Abraham looks up and beholds all of the stars of heaven, each one of which God calls by name. This is the desert where we go for peace. We turn inward to our hearts and are restored. Here is the silent place where we hear the voice of God.
I was reflecting on deserts and journeys here at the beginning of Lent. The image of a journey in the desert is very much a part of our Lenten tradition. The lessons speak to us of the Exodus. The length of our Holy Lent is 40 days. The measure calls to mind the time Jesus spent in the wilderness after he was baptized by John; but it also reminds us of the journey of Moses and Israel through the Sinai, one which was completed only at the end of forty years. I was prompted to ask what sort of journey I would undertake and in what sort of desert?
It is certainly possible to spend Lent visiting that first desert. This is the place in which we measure our failings, coming to understand the extent to which we have not yet responded to the call of God’s love. This can be a desert of penitence. This is a place to take a look at our lives and realize what is missing, what is wrong. I have something to learn in a place like this as long as I do not make my dwelling there. Spending some time here in reflection is obviously worth my while. It is a way to prepare myself to understand the magnitude of what is to come.
Our understanding of the Passion and Good Friday and then the Resurrection grows as we come to realize the extent of what Christ does for us. Some time in this first sort of desert is profitable as long as we remember to come out, to complete the journey and enter into the joy of Easter. Some time in this desert is worthwhile; but just so long as I do not become too attached to its desolation and lose my way.
I think it is also worth spending Lenten time in the other sort of desert. Here is one in which we are aware of the presence of God. This is the desert of stillness and beauty. This is the one where Abraham met the Creator. In this desert we can give thanks and praise. Here we can wander in joy. We can still our inner voices and just listen. We can open our hearts to the presence of God’s love. I think I may grow more here. I may begin to bloom as spring approaches.
This is a desert of joy; but it is also a desert of preparation. At Easter we will come out of this second desert and go into the world. Easter will send us proclaiming the joy which we have experienced. It is a journey which takes us from conversations with our teacher and then to the empty tomb and out into the world.
Of course, we can find the location of both of these places easily enough. Both are parts of our imaginations. Both are in the country of our hearts. I understand that we have to reflect on the extent to which we are in need; but if I am to appreciate the joys of Easter then a part of my preparation needs to be in the second desert as well, the one in which I can be still in the presence of God. This is a place where we are prepared and fed. So I would have us take this Lent both as a place to measure our need, but also, as Easter people, to reflect in joy on what is to come and that call by which we will be sent out into the world.
Let us wish each other a holy Lent, one of self-examination and repentance, but also one of prayer and the experience of the presence of God in our lives, one in which we wander in the joy of God’s abiding love.
Making the Move;
Taking the Prize
On February 21 of this year our Bishop of New Jersey, the Rt. Rev. George Councell, will join us in a celebration of this community’s ministry and the installation of the fourteenth Rector of the parish of Church of the Advent/St. John’s Chapel. Naturally enough I have been reflecting on what this all means. Where I come out is that it is much more about you than it is about me or the bishop or even a grand opportunity for a party. That is the nature of transition and change.
For many months you reflected and thought and prayed. The question that started it all was how to find a new priest, this fourteenth rector of the parish. This was the question to begin with; but I don’t think it stayed the question. I have spoken and listened to any number of you. What struck me was how much the transition time was one of dreaming and thinking of what the parish might be; what it mean to the community and to those who are members of our immediate parish family.
You spent all those months only in part looking for a rector. In larger part you spent the time profitably thinking about yourselves and your gifts. You were thinking about who you might be. The striking thing to me however is that you have not stopped thinking. I regularly hear the question of what we might do and become.
Here is a core truth about transition. If we have a healthy understanding of who we are that transition never stops. We never stop changing and growing. It is the nature of our common life together. We do not stop asking the question. We do not stop because to do so would be lose everything that has come to us as our gift in this place.
So my first reflection as we approach our liturgy of celebration is how important it is to continue the transition, always imagining, always re-visioning who we are. The Kingdom is always in-breaking, always becoming.
Your questions remind me of the how many different ways there are to grow in the gifts we have from the Spirit. I hear questions and suggestion about the liturgy, about prayer and spiritual growth, about how to serve those who are in need, about hunger and what we are going to do about it. The questions are insistent and they are a delight. So my second reflection is on the diversity of our shared gifts, the richness of our possibilities.
The liturgy will reflect all of this. In the middle of the celebration there will be a time for gifts and prayer. Watch and listen because the gifts will be to and from you. They will intentionally affirm the work you have taken up. They will affirm the questions you raise and the work which you have all claimed. There is a formal prayer for guidance on the part of the new Rector. This is a very old tradition; but there is also a formal prayer for guidance and the gifts of growth and spiritual strength on the part of the parish.
Your prayer in this liturgy is to continue asking the question. Our prayers will be to continue in transition, always in change. I really don’t know exactly where our journey will take us. I do know that we are called. We are called to dream and pray and make our move to help build the Kingdom. If we are to grow in Christ, this is the nature of our life. It is one of constant transition, always reaching into the unknown. We are always making the move. This is how we grab the prize.
A priest friend of mine made the observation that the most important part of the Mass was the last exchange. The deacon sends us out into the world. Our response is to thank God for being sent out. Put another way the deacon shouts that we have heard that we are called. The deacon says “We have the gift. Let’s get on with it.” The call is go into the world caring for those in need, living out our joy, proclaiming the good news. Run with the prize. Our response is to give thanks in joy.
It is always transition time. It is always time to change and make the move. It is always time to grab the prize. The gift is an ability to recognize that we are always in transition and always called to dream again. As we welcome our bishop and celebrate all of the ministries of this parish, those we know and those we have not even imagined, let us rejoice, going into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit and giving our thanks to God for being sent, for being called to dream.
There is a conspiracy of sorts. It is one of time, season, and the liturgical calendar. Christmas is over or will be shortly, even the twelve days of Christmas. It is most definitely winter time. It may or may not be cold out; but whatever the temperature a sudden gust of wind can remind you that it is winter and invite you back into the warmth. The days are short and the nights are long. These pieces all conspire to make for a dreaming time.
This is the time of year gardeners plan and dream. The seed and garden catalogues that come in the mail are reminders of that perfect garden I was planning on for next year. The advantage of the catalogue is that it does not require the use of a spade or rake. If we are not gardeners the season is one to dream and plan of a spring and summer filled with sunny days and warm breezes. It is a dreaming time.
For those who are in financial need it is a time to dream of warmer days when it is not necessary to worry about heat or being warm for a night’s sleep. Looking forward to spring and summer those who are hungry can dream that it will be a bit easier to get by, to provide for themselves and those who depend on them. It is a dream and a hope.
The liturgical calendar suggests a dreaming time as well. Here in the dark of winter and after our celebration of Christmas we are between two feasts of light. There is Epiphany, the shinning forth. It is the feast which reminds us that the light has shone forth into the world to everyone. Then, forty days after Christmas, there is Candlemas on February 2. A traditional time to bless candles is a time to remember and claim the light of Christ, the light that began so brightly on Christmas and is there for us even in the darkness of winter. Here are forty days to dream of what may be and the gift that calls us to do more, to care for those who have their hopes and dreams
I began to think about dreams when reading a piece about parish communities. The author was reflecting on how different each of us can be. Some parishes are in the inner city, some are rural. The character of place is or should be reflected in the faith community. His thoughts set me to thinking or day dreaming. What is the character of our community? I have my own ideas. Most of them revolve around hospitality, around avoiding the construction of barriers and extending hospitality to our guests and to the whole of our community.
My impression of this parish is that it already takes its hospitality seriously. In that sense it is already working to be faith community that is consistent with the community in which it is placed. Still, for all that we have done and continue to do, we can ask ourselves the questions. What is the welcome that we do well? What are the barriers? What are the points of entry which we have already created? How do we extend our hospitality even further? How do we make ourselves and our community as open as we hope to be—to our visitors, to those in need, to the world, to ourselves?
Given the time of year, this point in time, and reminded by the light of who we are, now seems to be a good time to dream of what we might be. Spring will be here in a moment. It is time to plan, to hope and to dream.
Adult Bible Study
Watch the Sunday bulletin and our web site at www.capemayadvent.org. We will be starting regular adult bible study in January. Bring a favorite bible or take pot luck from our diverse collection. Our first meeting will be on Tuesday, January 14 at 9:30 am. For a period of weeks we will look at a particular theme or book of scripture. The study approach will be a combination of your own reflections and background information. Our study together can be a time of learning and fellowship.
At this point our plan is to meet each Tuesday morning. It is possible that we could meet as well one evening during the week. Scheduling, with the time limits we all have, can be tricky. If you have a preference as to time (that is another day or hour) or think you may have an interest but also have questions, please let Fr. John know.
‘TIS THE SEASON!
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